12/01/2015 10:17AM

Fornatale: Another way to qualify for the NHC

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Some of the contest players reading this article today might be closer to gaining their spots in the National Handicapping Championship than they even realize. That’s because even if you don’t qualify for the NHC directly, you can still get in by finishing in the top 150 of the NHC Tour.

Current Tour standings will be available on the Tour leader board later in the week when last weekend’s results are updated. Players who already have an NHC berth cannot win a second seat through Tour points – but Tour points provide a back-door opportunity for players who have played consistently throughout the year.

Last year, 41 players qualified for the NHC via the Tour. Impressively, five of the 10 players – and the top three overall -- who ended up at the NHC Final table were in that category were Tour points qualifiers. Last year’s third-place finisher, Matthew Ransdell, didn’t know he could qualify on Tour points until late in the year when a friend explained the system to him. Ransdell ended up $125,000 richer as a result.

It’s possible that there are players out there right now who are in the same position Ransdell was in a year ago. Maybe they’ve had a few close calls this season, but haven’t won their way in directly. These people can still make their way to Vegas to fight for their share of the $2.5 million expected to be on offer – even if they don’t qualify in a tournament. If you’re in that category, you might want to block out the next few Saturdays to play on NHCQualify.com where contests will run on Dec. 5, 12, 19, 26 and Jan 3. These are the last remaining online qualifiers for 2015 Tour points. The NHC takes place in Las Vegas at Treasure Island on Jan. 28-30.

Some players worry that by allowing so many more players into the finals, the prize pool gets diluted, but this isn’t necessarily true. The quest for the top 150 fuels increased tour participation, meaning more money is coming into the NHC purse as more and more seats are added. Without all those players chasing the top 150, there would be less money given at the NHC, not more. In this way, the top 150 rule pays for itself.

What will it take points-wise to get into the top 150? It’s difficult to say. Heading into last weekend, the 150th place player was Paul Roth with just over 7,000 points, but that number has likely gone up with the flurry of contest activity last weekend. Roth had achieved his points through just three scores (up to six are used). Perhaps 8,000 would be a good goal for players interested in qualifying on points. For a full explanation of how points are awarded, go here. You can find a tour points calculator here.

It’s also possible that in your pursuit of Tour points, you can end up walking through the front door. Consider the case of Houston’s Nick Tammaro. Heading into last weekend, the respected handicapper had been on the wrong end of several tough finishes, and stood in 245th place with three solid scores.

“I had a complete meltdown in October after taking the lead early on in Keeneland’s live-bankroll tournament,” he said, “and twice this year I had been in qualifying territory online going into the final race and I was passed both times. So, the Hollywood Derby,” – this weekend’s anchor race on NHCQualify.com --  “made me feel like Bill Buckner, Scott Norwood, and Nick Anderson rolled into one.”

Things could have gotten hairy for Tammaro once again. He got place points for March’s second-place finish but a big longshot, Chiropractor ($30.80), won, meaning if three people in range had played him, Tammaro’s quest for Tour points would continue, but he’d be out of luck on the day. In the end, however, there was no ball through the legs, no wide right, no bricked free throw, not this time.

“I frantically clicked through the picks of the top 30 people or so after March missed by a head,” Tammaro said, “and I was delighted to see only two people had used him.”

Tammaro is an analytical type, but he’s not above a little superstition.

“I went back to something that had worked well in the past,” he said. “The very first time I qualified for the NHC was in 2008 when I won a one-seat qualifier at Sam Houston Race Park. The night before, I went to Kenny and Ziggy's, the finest Jewish deli this side of the Mississippi, and had knockwurst with sauerkraut. So, Friday night I went back and ate the same thing. I've already made plans for dinner at Kenny and Ziggy's on Jan. 26.”